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James Boyd
Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research

Ken Turchi
Maurer School of Law

Last modified: Friday, June 7, 2013

PRISM leak will affect U.S.-China talks, have commercial and political consequences in U.S.

June 7, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The disclosure of a top secret program that gives U.S. government officials the ability to surveil foreigners suspected of terrorism or espionage through leading American technology companies -- a program code-named PRISM -- could have serious effects on U.S. diplomacy on cyber issues, according to an Indiana University cyber security expert.

David Fidler

David P. Fidler

Print-Quality Photo

With President Barack Obama meeting with China's president Xi Jinping today, June 7, to discuss cyber threats, the news could not have come at a worse time, said David P. Fidler, a fellow at IU's Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research and the James Louis Calamaras Professor of Law at the IU Maurer School of Law.

"Tonight, the president sits down with the leader of China for a summit at which the U.S. wants to focus on stopping Chinese economic cyber espionage against American commercial interests, and the American news cycle is dominated by stories of the vast extent of U.S. cyber surveillance affecting its own citizens and foreigners," Fidler said. "Although the two issues are not the same, the difference will not prevent these disclosures from hardening China's resolve not to be lectured about cyber espionage by President Obama."

With the public and policymakers still reacting to the unauthorized disclosure this week of a secret order concerning Verizon phone records, PRISM pours additional fuel on the "privacy vs. security" debate.

"Yesterday, Verizon customers might have been looking at their phones in an entirely different way, and, today, when people go to post on Facebook, will PRISM be in their thoughts? Will the use of these technologies and services change in light of these back-to-back revelations?" Fidler asked. "Foreign users of the companies associated with PRISM, who are not protected by U.S. law, might decide to source their Internet services elsewhere."

The PRISM disclosure reinforces that the U.S. body politic faces a moment of historical reckoning, Fidler argues, about the scope of government secrecy, what Americans want privacy to mean in this digital age, and how our practices affect the U.S. desire for "Internet freedom" to thrive globally.

"How we as a free people and a democratic government respond to these challenges will define our country for years to come," he said.

Fidler is an internationally recognized expert on international law and cyber security law and policy, among other areas. He is the co-author of "Responding to National Security Letters: A Practical Guide for Legal Counsel." He can be reached at 812-855-6403 or